Professor discusses critic John Ruskin

USC hosted the John Ruskin Art Club, the oldest arts and cultural association in Los Angeles, Thursday night at Doheny Library for a lecture on the club’s founder, John Ruskin.

“This is really our home,” said club president Gabriel Meyer, before the lecture. “The Ruskin Art Club was involved with USC since 1905 so we go back a long way with USC. Many of the wives of the founders of USC were a part of the Ruskin Art Club and established a deep connection there. More recently, we donated our historic archives to the USC special collections, and we are very proud to have them here.”

The lecture, given by Cambridge professor and noteworthy Ruskin expert Clive Wilmer, dramatized the ways in which Ruskin’s sociological ideals are still applicable today. Ruskin’s articles, which praised English artist J. M. W. Turner’s paintings as “true” art, persuaded audiences that nature is wonderful and that people should pay attention to it to save it.

“He claimed that such industrial capitalism was taking over and destroying the world,”  Wilmer said. “How the skies are darkening. How there is more and more pollution in the air. How the snow is melting. Sound familiar?”

Ruskin, who is largely associated with the “Arts and Crafts” movement that grew out of his writing, is highly influential in the United States. Ruskin lived in Manchester, England, which was then regarded as the center of Britain’s newly acquired wealth and site of mass poverty and social stratification as a result of factories of the Industrial Revolution.

Wilmer said that 150 years ago, John Ruskin was trying to tell his audience that the world was falling apart and no one was paying attention. Ruskin said that like painting, where the message is inseparable from the medium, the language of poetry cannot be understood without the words and the rhythms. Rather than simply dictionary definitions, meaning is a matter of context, sound and rhythm.

Ruth Weisberg, professor of fine arts at USC, said she aims to carry out Ruskin’s vision through her classes at USC.

“The actual work is physical work done in a way that harkens back 500 years ago,” Weisberg said. “I teach drawing based on observation and based on apprehension of form and the poetry of the visual. I do not deny imagination, but I want the hand that is trained.”

“Many people believe in the term “deskilling” but it is very important to me that we are still teaching students based on observation and training one’s hand and eye,” she said. “Giving them something so real and enduring. And I am very proud that will continue here at USC.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated Professor Jim Spaces gave the lecture.  Spaces introduced the main lecturer, Clive Wilmer. It also stated that Ruskin was active 300 years ago. He was active 150 years ago. The Daily Trojan regrets the errors.

1 reply
  1. Claude Zachary
    Claude Zachary says:

    Thanks for the coverage of the first Ruskin Lecture to be held at the Doheny Library. We plan to make this an annual event, continuing the USC Libraries collaboration with the Ruskin Art Club that began with the donation of its archives to Special Collections.

    I have two corrections to the article:
    The distinguished lecturer last evening was actually Professor Clive Wilmer, a prominent Ruskin scholar, poet, and Master of St. George Guild, a charity founded by John Ruskin in 1871. Professor Spaces provided an eloquent introduction to Mr. Wilmer’s talk.

    John Ruskin was active in England in the mid-19th century, about 150 years ago.

    Claude Zachary, USC Libraries Special Collections

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